At about the time I was reaching the zenith of my journalism career, a newsroom was not a very pleasant place. Temper tantrums were common, as were shouting matches and general rude behavior. A tossed keyboard or even a thrown fist was not unheard of.
The rudeness and lack of civility was excused by the pressure of deadlines and the so-called artistic temperament which was thought to be a prerequisite to the creation of formulaic news stories.
Somewhere along the line all that changed. Newsrooms and other offices started to see a link between a lack of civility and a lack of productivity. In fact Cisco Systems calculated that incivility was costing the company about $8 million dollars a year.
And other organizations as diverse as the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the public library in Howard County Maryland have begun urging people to mind their manners to reduce absenteeism and employee turnover and just generally make the workplace more pleasant.
Some business schools are now setting out to disprove the old aphorism that “good guys finish last” with studies that show people prefer to work with nice people. As the world seems to be getting ruder, more value is about to be placed on manners, politeness and even etiquette.
A leading crusader in the search for civility is Professor Pier Forni of Johns Hopkins University. He has written two books on the subject and outlined a daunting 25 rules to avoid rudeness.
One wonders if the hasty and impersonal world of digital dispatches has contributed to the rudeness around us. How polite can one be in the 140 characters of Twitter? And how can a quickly texted “thx” compare to the now archaic hand-written note?
I sense we will see and hear more about the New Age of Civility and I welcome it. Maybe we can even go back to the time when “thank you” was answered by “you’re welcome” instead of “uh-huh”.
Let’s not forget, though, that the secret to civility is the same thing that makes all of our interactions more productive – communication.